Lanesta White (center) and her three kids

When she was 13 years old, Lanesta White’s father died. Her mother was an alcoholic, so that left White and her brother mostly on their own. White ended up dropping out of high school in the 9th grade, had her first child at 16 and was pregnant with her second by the age of 18. She had obtained her GED, but life still wasn’t easy.

So she decided to make a change.

“After years of struggling to make ends meet, in 2013, I came to a point where I needed to be a parent my children could be proud of, a mentor, someone they could look up to,” White said. “So I decided to go to college.”

It had been more than 15 years since White had been in a classroom, and she found herself having to re-learn how to be a student, along with maintaining her grades and class schedule.

Her struggles intensified in 2015 when a third pregnancy proved difficult, and her son was born with a tumor on his lung. But through the subsequent hospitalizations and illnesses, White kept pursuing her degree.

She struggled for two years at another college before transferring to Winona State University in 2015 after hearing of its reputation for supporting student parents.

“The Student-Parent Initiative was something that really sparked my interest and motivated me to apply to WSU,” said White. “I faced many challenges while pursuing my degree. Having other parents to help with suggestions and support gave me the strength to keep pushing forward regardless of our struggles.”

White also became involved in WSU’s TRiO program, a group that supports first-generation students, student parents, students with income needs and students with disabilities.

“I personally had a lot of struggles that made me want to just throw in the towel, but having that support helped with getting through those hard times and staying focused on completing school,” White said.

On Dec. 9, 2016, White will graduate as a first-generation student with an individualized studies degree with an emphasis in management information systems (MIS), something that seemed so unattainable just 18 years ago.

“Regardless of what you are going through or what you have been through, never give up. Don’t let your past define your future,” White said.